Finishing a run on Ponderosa State Park’s snow-covered trails one morning in early November, I’m approached by another runner just starting her run. The number or trail runners in McCall is fairly small; I don’t recognize her. We exchange hellos and she asks what the footing is like on the trails. Noticing she has YakTrax on her shoes and is well-prepared, I tell her the nearby trails are nicely packed but those farther out have unpacked, deeper snow. Chatting a bit, I learn she and her family moved here from California in 2016, wanting their children to grow up in a small community. I’m inquisitive by nature and this woman doesn’t seem rushed to depart, despite the cold, so I ask what sort of work she and her husband do here, and in California before leaving. She mentions working on environmental issues for the federal government. “The EPA?” I ask. “Justice Department,” she responds. It was then I realize my hunch is correct and say to her, laughing, “It’s okay; I’m an attorney as well, although retired from practice.” She smiles and relaxes. It’s a natural response we in the legal field develop along with our job skills: don’t quickly offer what you do for a living, wary of a negative reaction. Exchanging business cards, I exact a promise to let me profile her for the Digest before she heads out on the trail.
Julia Thrower has been running since high school, when she ran cross-country for four years and track for two. In college, however, she switched to rowing and was on crew. During a study aboard year in London, Thrower had the opportunity to row with the University of London crew team. “Their oar-pulling is different,” Thrower says, “so it took some adjustment. But they accepted the American.”
Thrower’s competitive athletic background provided her with the stick-to-it-ness required to pursue advanced degrees. Several of them. Her academic path was not a predictable one, however. She graduated from the University of the Pacific – Stockton with a degree in biochemistry, then pursued graduate and doctoral work in biochemistry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. This is where Julia met Larry Thrower, a fellow graduate student in her department. They married in 1999, a few months before Julia finished her Ph.D.
The newlyweds soon moved to California where Thrower’s husband started law school at Santa Clara University and she pursued post-doctoral research at University of California – Berkeley. Taking interest in her husband’s courses, particularly one about water law, Thrower realized she was fascinated with environmental law. Thrower also had to admit that job prospects in biochemistry in places she wanted to live were slim. California, though, was a good location for environmental lawyers – lots of work at firms in the Bay Area – so Thrower started law school at U.C. Berkeley in 2004, right after her husband graduated with his law degree.
Graduating law school in 2007, Thrower’s first job as an attorney was with the U.S. Justice Department in their Environmental and Natural Resources Division in Washington, D.C. The couple moved to the capital where Thrower’s husband soon landed a job with the Patent and Trademark Office. After five years back east, Thrower transferred to the Department of Justice’s San Francisco field office in 2012; her husband telecommutes, so can do his work from anywhere.
Recently, Thrower attended an intensive, 40-hour mediation training course at Pepperdine University, adding another tool to her legal toolbox.
In 2015, one of Thrower’s federal cases in Boise entered settlement negotiations after a decision from the court. After participating in the negotiations, Thrower and her husband took a two-week vacation, exploring Idaho. They fell in love with McCall. By this time, they had two young children – Ethan and Ava – so the quality of McCall’s schools was a big draw. “My husband is from a small town,” Thrower says. “He wanted our kids to be able to grow up in a small town as well, with the outdoors so accessible.” They spent a year thinking about making this transition from big city to small town. When they were able to find a local house to rent the summer of 2016, that sealed it. Soon after relocating, they found some land to buy and plan to build a house.
“Our kids love McCall,” Thrower says. “They’re nine and six, and enjoy skiing, ice skating, soccer…things they couldn’t do in San Francisco.” Thrower is the leader of her son’s cub scout troop. The entire family – including 12-year-old Labrador retriever Sarava – enjoys hiking in the forest around McCall. “I used to enjoy doing landscape photography,” Thrower says. “With kids, only the aging Sarava is happy to stop for me to set up a tripod and take photos. Maybe now with the kids in school I can take it up again.”
Focus on Environmental Law in Private Practice
Thrower’s work with the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department included cases across the West, focusing on National Environmental Policy Act litigation, federal forest management and Department of Transportation federal highway issues. Still licensed to practice law in California, Thrower can try federal cases anywhere, but after relocating to McCall she took the Idaho bar exam and has been licensed here since May 2017, allowing her to take cases in Idaho state courts.
Opening her own law practice – Coast to Mountain Environmental Law and Mediation – in McCall in the summer of 2017, Thrower’s primary focus will continue to be environmental law but also municipal issues and mediation. “There’s room in environmental law for mediation,” Thrower says, “because there are always multiple interests, and federal law requires that those interests be taken into account. Mediation allows for better outcomes while building relationships between the parties and groups, helping avoid future disputes.” Thrower feels that her background working for the federal government gives her a unique perspective for what the government can and can’t do, and why.
When asked what she likes most about practicing law, Thrower responded, “The thought process, and developing the case and a compelling story for the court.” What does she like the least? “That it’s difficult to have a steady work-life balance because the work isn’t steady when you’re doing litigation. Either you’re really busy, or you’re not.” There have been some surprises in the switch from her government job to private practice. “The biggest adjustment is dealing with private clients who have regular jobs during the day and may not be accessible to talk during weekdays and business hours,” Thrower says. “When I worked for the government, there was someone at the agency [involved in the litigation] whose job was to deal with me.” Having an extensive biochemistry background was enormously helpful to Thrower’s work at the Justice Department. “I liked cases where there were arguments about the science, for example the science of protecting an endangered species, or fire science. Since I have a science background, I didn’t shy away from arguments made by the other side that the science was wrong, and would address them head on. It was a way to use some of my science background while practicing law. And the science in and of itself is interesting.”
Finding that Elusive Work-Life Balance
The Throwers are finding life in McCall to their liking. Figuring out the work-life balance seems easier here, as the family thrives on exploring their new home together – mountain biking local trails, finding their own Christmas tree in the forest, skiing at Little Ski Hill – and Julia is able to go for a run on her favorite trails in Ponderosa State Park while her kids are in school. This is a wonderful place to raise kids.
I asked Julia what – other than law or biochemistry – she might pursue if supporting a family wasn’t a concern. “Outdoor photography,” she says, “because you get to quietly sit and enjoy the world unfolding before you, and sometimes, while you’re waiting for the perfect shot, nature displays itself in amazing ways. One of my favorite times was when I was taking pictures of the Sawtooth Mountains from Stanley. I was out for several hours in the morning watching the developing morning light hit the mountain tops and move down to the valley. During that time, I saw a thunderstorm form over the jagged peaks and rush into the valley, at which point I had to take cover. I’ve never seen something quite like that before.”
Learn more about Coast to Mountains Environment Law and Mediation here.